Ana Brnabić: the least bad news for Serbia

Appointment of a competent pro-Western openly gay female PM is a good thing, even though Serbia’s democracy is sliding back

Today, after a long unwarranted delay Serbia’s president/PM Aleksandar Vučić decided to appoint Ana Brnabić as his successor who is to from the new Serbian government. This function will be almost ceremonial, as Vučić clearly showed intention to keep all the reigns in his hands.

Ana Brnabić was a good choice, in large part because who the other alternatives were. One was Ivica Dačić, the current minister of foreign affairs, who was Milošević’s spokesperson and has a string of affairs and public embarrassments to his name. The others were Vučić’s part apparatchiks, the current police minister or the mayor of Novi Sad, who, with no work experience outside of politics (like Vučič) who would have also debased this (nominally) most powerful job in Serbia.

Unlike them Ana Brnabić is a UK educated business woman with a string of private successes to her name. She is still (nominally) outside of Vučić’s party. Although I do not support expert-ministers as they either diminish the point of democracy and/or act as cover for pervasive clientelism, it is good to have someone who has accomplishments beside swimming in the cesspool of Serbian party politics at the top spot. The additional plus is that Ana Brnabić is openly gay, a big thing for Serbia.

The choice of Ana Brnabić shows that Aleksandar Vučić has learnt how to play with the West’s tick-box approach to liberalism. As I am writing this there is certainly going to be a saccharine AJ+ or Independent article what an achievement that is in a country where the Pride parade is still heavily guarded by the police and only a few years ago meant that there would be heavy destruction of property in Belgrade.

No matter how much the opposition commentariat in Serbia might scoff this is a big achievement and maybe a sign we are going in a less bad direction. We need to bear in mind that Serbia is still a country where church and ultra-nationalist parties, some of which are in coalition with Vučić’s party, can openly say that being lesbian disqualifies someone from a job. It is also dubitable whether any of the opposition parties would have gone with someone openly gay for the top spot.

The sign that things are not deteriorating as much is that this might have been Vučić’s first non-populist move in a while and a sign that his flirtation with nationalism has, at least temporarily, waned. The fact that Branbić was also allegedly supported by Western countries this is also a move towards the EU and, maybe even, the NATO.

There is certainly going to be a chorus of opposition pundits who will moan that the westward orientation in Serbia is no longer a guarantee of increased civil rights and that this way Vučić is ensuring he has leeway to strengthen his power. Nevertheless, the opposition in Serbia should finally learn to grow up and not rely too much on outside powers to fight their fight on this most internal of all fronts front.

One thing is certain: Ana Brnabić was the best choice on offer and as a supporter of LGBT rights in Serbia, as well as someone who thinks merit should still figure in political appointments, it is difficult not to be happy about it.  Even if it is in these scarily undemocratic times.

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